What America thinks about Iraq... That's the title of Peggy Noonan's piece, up today in the Wall Street Journal. Basically, she concludes that we don't like incompetence – either the incompetence of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, or the incompetence of the Obama administration's withdrawal from Iraq.
I don't think it's quite so simple.
An equally supportable explanation is that general American ignorance of the Iraq (and larger Middle East) situation – both then (2003) and now – means that the only metric most Americans have is the success or failure of any American action there. Both the invasion and the withdrawal were clear failures, so (generalizing very broadly) we Americans don't like it.
If the circumstances were otherwise identical, and Bush's invasion did produce a working, viable, strong representative democracy, I have no doubt that Americans would see the invasion positively – simply because it was successful, independent of the competence of the action. Likewise, if Obama's withdrawal had left a viable state (even if it was a sectarian thugocracy) behind, we Americans would be positive about it as well.
The reality of both adventures is a complex mixture of success and failure, and the wisdom of both the invasion and the withdrawal really must be evaluated in the context of what was known at the time – not with the advantage of hindsight we have today. The failure of the Iraq invasion wasn't entirely due to incompetence (though that certainly played a part), nor was the failure of the withdrawal caused entirely by incompetence (though one could plausibly argue it played a large role in it).
Where Noonan gets it right, I think (though she doesn't say this straight out), is that such simplistic explanations (like blaming it all on incompetence) is about as much as we can expect as analysis by the average American.
And that I find quite sad...
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